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Local law officials concerned about governor's plan for early release of inmates

A plan by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that proposes early releases for more than 22,000 inmates statewide, has some Merced County law enforcement officials concerned about the effects the plan might have locally.

The proposed early releases were unveiled in January as a part of the governors 2008-09 budget, which called for a reduction in spending by 10 percent for state department and programs to address a projected state shortfall of $14.5 billion.

At issue locally are the approximately 1,500 inmates from Merced County who are currently serving time in the state’s prison system. While Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and Merced Police Chief Russ Thomas say it has yet to be determined how an early release of inmates will affect Merced County, they are both watching the issue very closely.

Pazin said although the issue of early inmate releases “comes with some angst,” he is taking a wait-and-see approach to the governor’s proposal, saying there is still room for negotiation. “We were basically in a similar spot in 2007. There was talk of early releases, budget cuts (and) armageddon was just around the corner,” Pazin said. “Through the process of the (California Sheriffs' Association) being at the table with the governor, we were able to get through last year, (which) would have been considered a catastrophic process, regarding finances, early release propositions and such.”

Under the governor’s proposal, support for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation by $17.9 million in 2007-08 and $378.9 in 2008-09, according to the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based independent fiscal and policy analysis non-profit.

Some of those savings would be achieved by releasing some inmates 20 months early in their sentences, resulting in savings of $4.3 million in 2007-08 and $256.4 million in 2008-09. Under the plan, inmates with non-violent, and non-sex related offenses would be eligible for early release.

The plan also includes placing certain inmates and parolees on “summary parole,” resulting in savings of $13.6 million in 2007-08 and $97.9 million in 2008-09. Inmates on summary parole have no active supervision, although they are subject to searches and drug tests. It’s estimated that summary parole would reduce the average number of parolees by 18,522 and the number of inmates by 6,249.

For more about this story, read Friday's Merced Sun-Star..